La fin de Janvier, and maybe a little Février

Hola, internet friends! It is I, the goose whisperer.

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Look at those fat puddles of hissing and fervor. They’ve been making a habit of stalking whatever I happen to be cooking outside. Chicken Taco Soup is not for you! Is there a good recipe for goose in the Instant Pot? Someone once said to me that you don’t really know that you miss Canadian Geese until they’re gone. I would like to at least give it a try.

Where did we leave off? Ah, yes. Texas!

From our trusty posting in Whitney, we ventured into good ol’ Fort Worth to visit Texas Christian University. Seriously, I was just as surprised as you are.

It turns out that the science building holds a very extensive meteorite museum! The Monnig Meteorite Gallery houses approximately 3,000 samples of meteorites from around the world – correction, universe. Their catalogue can be searched here if you’d like to take a look. The samples range from very small to very large, some being slices and others big fat chunks. The kids were excited because there were quite a few meteorites to lay hands on. We touched Mars, y’all!

This next thing I found on google maps just by accident. Did you know that they print money in Fort Worth!?

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing is located there, and they offer TOURS! The only catch is that you have to leave behind every single bit of technology you carry on your person. No phone, no watch, and sadly NO CAMERA. It was such a damn shame too, because that place is super freakin’ neato. It’s a self-guided tour on an enclosed catwalk over the printing floor, but a tour nonetheless. Mara was extra excited about the little handheld telephone type speakers they gave to everyone. When you got to a number on the wall, you’d type it in to your device and a disembodied voice would tell you all about what was happening through the windows and below.

You guys, the employees on the production floor were SO HAPPY! Everybody waved at us as we awkwardly gawked at them and a few even showed us what they were working on. One guy took an uncut sheet of 36 hundred dollar bills and folded them like a paper airplane so that he could throw them to us. Damn windows. That same national treasure of a man also counted out ONE MILLION DOLLARS in hundreds, folded the sheets up in thirds, and hugged the mass of paper like a teddy bear. Someone somewhere is buying an industrial sized tub of gummy bears with a hundred dollar bill that man snuggled.

New Mexico was next on the adventure list.

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The last time we came through southern New Mexico, it was a pass-through state. We really didn’t accomplish much, and that was OK. This visit we were determined to see the things we’d passed by and ignored for times sake. Have you ever been to Carlsbad Caverns?

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As you know we LOVE us some National Parks! My mother has spoken not so fondly about the caverns in the past, as she had visited as a child and HATED it. I had high hopes, though. We were privileged to have Justin with us as his handicapped feet bought us a pass on the elevator straight down about 800 feet to the big room, skipping almost two hours of hiking!

The big room in the cavern is really pretty, and over the years they’ve put in actual paved walking paths, about a thousand lights, and even a snack bar. I had it in my head that I wanted to walk the whole mile and a half trail through the big room. These guys frequently ride their bikes WAY farther than that, they can walk a measly 7,920 feet.

They were MISERABLE. Honestly, by the time we got to the last half mile anxiety was winning. I was freaking out internally, the kids were tired and hungry, and Justin’s feet were barking. In hind sight, the cavern looked the same all over. We could have spent twenty minutes down there and been done. We did it, though, and we don’t have to do it again! Some regrets!

The next day we used our spiffy new military ID’s to gain access to a campground inside Holloman Air Force Base. We got there on a Friday when no one was flying, and the silence continued until Monday morning when the zoomies woke up for work. SO MANY PLANES. Fighter jets, reconnaissance planes, cargo planes… they all wooshed past the camper on repeat for the entirety of the day. I really like base campgrounds, and I really like planes. Sometimes, though, you just want to complete a full sentence before the jets go by again.

They had a small air park that included a drone! One of the units at this base is made of drone pilots.

 

Why were we at Holloman? Two reasons: New Mexico Museum of Space History and White Sands National Monument!

The space history museum housed some fairly significant artifacts, such as the daisy track, once used to test deceleration techniques:

…and I don’t think they actually know the meaning of “fun fact.”

The first chimpanzee who went to space is buried here.

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Well, his skin is, anyway. Horrified yet? After a failed bid to have him stuffed (public outcry and all), his skeleton was shipped off to the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the rest of him buried in the front lawn at the museum. RIP Ham!

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White Sands was a whopping FOUR miles away from Holloman. Our stop here last year was very brief and expensive. They have that sled scam going on, funding the entirety of the parks system. This year we stopped at the local Walmart and procured $5 sleds. Take that!

Can I just say how much we LOVE White Sands? A LOT. It’s one of our favorite places by a mile. We started the Junior Ranger Program before we headed out for the really good stuff. Most of the programs can be completed in the visitor centers but White Sands requires some outdoor participation.

If you’ve never thrown yourself down a giant dune of gypsum you’re missing out!

The sand was so white and the sky was so blue!

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Do me and you a favor and make your way out here, please? It’s such an experience.

When Justin decided that he wanted to ride the roads at the monument on his birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU ADVENTUROUS SOUL)

 

…we were all too eager to tag along for more sledding.

When Justin was done with his birthday ride, we did what any reasonably sane adults would do and geared up the turbos to rip donuts on the flats with our F350 dually. You know you would too, stop playin’. One problem, though: NOBODY SHUT THE TAILGATE.

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Helmets, sleds, an entire bag of lump charcoal, and sad, sandy Crocs as far as the eye could see. *sigh*

Worth it.

Now listen, my next post takes us into Arizona. Only a handful of people know what happened on our second day there, and most of them are Sheriff’s Deputies. I will write as fast as I can, just keep in mind that everyone is alive and well and we know exactly where they are.

 

National Parks Four, Five, and Six, a Zip Line, and a Punch to the Eye

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Cousin Teddy had a way with words. According to the Ancestry.com app on my phone, Theodore Roosevelt is my seventh cousin, four times removed. Whether or not that’s true has yet to be determined but I like the idea. It gives me the notion that maybe the draw to explore these wild, wonderful parks is in our blood, and adventuring was our destiny all along. Also, maybe the kids are supposed to be presidents. Or maybe they should be photo-shopped riding atop a moose. Either or.

From the Dancing Eagle Casino we could extend our reach to three new places. El Malpais (mal pie EESE) National Monument was the next stop in our National Parks quest. Early explorers called this place El Malpais (which means ‘the badlands’) because most of the area is rough volcanic rock and their horses were unable to traverse the impossibly jagged ground. Honestly, people have trouble as well. We met the Chief Ranger for this area and El Morro and she told us about a man who was rescued from the area within the last year. It took them almost two hours to get to him on foot, and when they finally did reach him they couldn’t evacuate him. They had to call the Navy. Yes, the Navy had to rescue them from the middle of New Mexico. Not to discount the terrible experience for the man who was in trouble but hot damn, that had to be a cool rescue operation. The Chief said the planes whooshed by about 200 feet up from the treetops. I could tell that she was a little excited about it too. Good job, random unprepared hiker!

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This Ranger was super excited about the Junior Ranger swearing in and made sure to grab his awesome hat

After we had explored the museum and completed our Junior Ranger program (YAY) we headed out to explore the park we’d just learned about.

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La Ventana Natural Arch was so high and gorgeous. We stood quietly for a few minutes (seconds probably) to just take in the surrounding and ended up hearing some elk honking away. Justin also thought that he saw a large cat up in one of the holes in the wall but I’m going to pretend that he didn’t.

We also drove over to the sandstone bluffs to look out over the lava field. Again, a moment you could never fully capture.

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That little pool was teaming with life in the form of water bugs of various sorts, unaware that they are several hundred feet into the sky. I would have gotten a better photo of how high up we were but it was really windy and there is nothing to stop you from flying off into the lava rock. I’m adventurous but not stupid. Ok not that stupid. Ok, I wasn’t willing to go to the edge that day. Continuing…

The next day we drove in to Albuquerque to visit Petroglyph National Monument. It’s in a different kind of area compared to other parks. The pieces of land included in the monument have neighborhoods all around them instead of being out in the middle of nowhere. We were able to complete our Junior Ranger goals at the visitors center before we went out exploring.

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This Ranger was one of my favorites, as she was genuinely excited about ALL of the parks and not just her own. The rangers in general thought the kids were just awesome in their little vests covered in badges, clutching their Junior Ranger Camelbak bottles. We got a little carried away – but for a good cause.

The basalt rocks in this area have kind of a black varnish on them due to the desert environment and it provided ample canvas for the migrating travelers to etch a picture or two down to the gray basalt. No one is really sure what all of the glyphs represent and it’s offensive to ask the natives. We can only speculate what they mean. Some of them are obvious, like a bird or a snake. Others may have been placed there by ol’ Uncle Bob who wasn’t right in the head. We may never know.

We also went to a really cool city park in Albuquerque that had zip lines! The kids could have stayed there all night.

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The sixth park in our wondrous National Parks tour was a place called El Morrow National Monument, El Morrow meaning ‘the headlands.’

This area saw travelers of all kinds because it is the site of an ever present watering hole. People traversing the West could count on the pool at El Morrow which is fed from the runoff of melted snow from the cliffs above. The area is also significant because when people came through here they felt the need to write their names on the wall.

It’s pretty neat to see all the different names and such, and the park has done a great job at gathering information about a good majority of the people and including that in their self-guided tour.

I brought the selfie stick with us that day, a device that is incredibly superfluous yet fun to embarrass your family with.

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I LOVE this photo of us for a few reasons. One being that it shows the pool at El Morrow, another being that it captured the moment right after Wesson had inadvertently punched Mara in the eye. Justin and I were smiling like fools, oblivious to the collision,  Wesson with his ‘shit happens’ face, and Mara mid un-grinning. Candid moments caught on camera! Thanks, selfie stick! Before you tell me what a crappy parent I am for getting the giggles when I look at this photo, she was fine. She didn’t even cry and I don’t think that her eye was that black.

We had done it! Six parks in six days, and six Junior Ranger badges! I just love what we gain from the programs. In fact, ANYONE can complete the program, it’s not just for children. I’m looking forward to seeing just how many parks we can visit before we stop traveling. Who am I kidding? We’re never going to stop.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

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Open range and hot dogs

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future?” – Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Ok, so we aren’t riding pack mules, but we are moving enough to feel the ups and downs of the earth. I wish that I could properly convey to you the barrel-chested deep breath feeling that is driving across an open plain or through a mountain range or down in a valley with nowhere to really go and nothing to be. I’ll keep working on it.

Gosh, after reading this whole thing I’ve determined that I’m a whiner today. Or maybe it was just a meh patch of travel. I’m dedicated to writing it all down, though. Brace yourself.

Our detour to gallivant around White Sands put us past our soft limit on driving time for the day. When we got to this sign for Hidden Valley Ranch RV Resort it was already starting to get dark.

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Yeah, about that… The road turned out to be a very bumpy seven miles of dirt road, washed out in some places, running through open range. Open range is land where cattle roam freely without fences or cares. There were a few by the road but none who wanted to make friends with the truck.

Upon arriving at the gate after our seven mile adventure we discovered two giant signs that said “ADULTS ONLY PARK.” Aw, hell. The sun had set and the light was all but gone. Even though it was after office hours a nice woman got us into our assigned site. I couldn’t remember if I had talked about having kids with us when I had made the reservation so I just plain old didn’t mention them. I surmised that we’d just be eating dinner and going to bed, leaving early the next morning, so we’d not be making a whole lot of noise which is 90% of the complaint about families in parks. Then, Wesson tripped, hit his face on the CORNER of the wall with all of his body weight, and wailed for like 45 minutes.

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OUCH!

Poor buddy! I tried to tell him that he could have come up with a less painful way to blow our cover.

The next morning I paid the front office on our way out and the woman working said they happily accept families short term and they should probably take the signs down. *phew*

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The park has been there in the middle of nowhere since the 60’s. The fantastic panoramic view by itself was enough to make us want to come back. The sign was right, totally worth it.

Once we made the seven mile trek back to somewhat civilization we headed west yet again. Today’s destination was Tombstone, Arizona! The park du jour was Butterfield RV Resort and Observatory. Sounds cool, right? This is going to be a really complain-y paragraph. I’ll speed through it and get it out of my system. *BIG BREATH IN* The observatory was open, but only for a few minutes at 7pm sharp, and only for 16 predesignated people to look through. The spaces were tiny and they had miniature picnic tables (no joke). The price was RIDICULOUS!!! The office staff told me that they would never answer the phone or help anyone 15 minutes before closing. There were very loud trains and helicopters every twenty or so minutes ALL NIGHT LONG! *GASP* PHEW! I think that was it.

I didn’t bother with any photos. That’s fairly significant as I just had to dump 6,000 photos off my phone because I take a photo of everything. They deserved none.

Backtracking a second: After we had gotten parked in the… park we headed out to Tombstone. It was exactly as you’d picture it: Horse-drawn Wells Fargo stagecoaches, Men in long dusters and cowboy hats, and lots of historical markers.

Except for one obnoxious bunch of drunks in a saloon (still, how perfect) it was a great little town. After wandering around we drove down to the Tombstone Brewery and sampled a few things before heading back to the house where I proceeded to not sleep (see the aforementioned long-winded complaint).

Lunch the next day was at a rest area. Does everyone cook their hot dogs on the ground? No? Someday I’ll graduate to a table.

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This was our last day of serious driving for an entire week. FINALLY!

Scottsdale became our home for seven sleeps. That week would provide lots of fun, family, and a bit of frustration. It doesn’t deserve to be attached to this grouser of a post, though. I’m going to drink some tea, maybe some bourbon, and come back with less grumble in my fingers.

Have an adventure this weekend, would you?

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

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Amarillo by morning

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Here, have the world’s largest pistachio as a gift for reading this post.

We got to Amarillo pretty early in the day so we had lots of time. After the camper was set up we headed for Cadillac Ranch! We stopped at the local Wal-Mart and ended up on this bad boy:

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YEE HAW!

Cadillac Ranch is an art installation put together by some guys from an art group called Ant Farm. It consists of several Cadilli buried nose first, together representing the rise and fall of tail fins. They are all at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza, oddly enough. They weren’t meant to be spray painted initially but it turns out everyone is totally cool with it, and the millionaire who owned the property where it lies encouraged visitors to the site so the gate to get there remains. Fun fact: the Home Depot in Amarillo sells the most spray paint of all the Home Depots. I think we were all really excited about Cadillac Ranch. It’s one of those places that we’ve read about a lot. Wesson was especially insistent that we go.

It was super windy and the field was a mud hole but we had a total blast! Mara was the only one to empty her spray can. The rest of us passed them off to a family that showed up as we were leaving.

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We also ran into the 2nd Amendment Cowboy over at the Cadillac Ranch RV park, no relation.

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After we had expressed ourselves through the medium of spray paint we visited The Big Texan Steak Ranch. This place used to be on Route 66, when the Interstate rolled through they were suffocated right out of business. The only way they could continue was to move to the freeway. It’s a really, REALLY different place. It’s very eclectic decor included farting mannequins, taxidermy by the truckload, a live rattlesnake, a shooting gallery, and lots of horns from long horns -some of which you can buy and attach to the front of your vehicle. This is also home to the 72oz steak dinner challenge. The current record holder is a 120lb woman who ate three of these such dinners in twenty minutes. That’s all three within the same 20 minutes. *blort*

They also offer a free limo pick up service. If only we had known about it ahead of time…

Wesson was the only one smart enough to order a steak – which showed up INSIDE A COWBOY HAT! While we were eating our incredibly delicious dinner and sipping on a ten sample flight of house brewed beer, the musicians came by. This was my favorite part of the whole experience.

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These two gentlemen sang and played their instruments to the tune of an old Hank Williams song. It was marvelous! I stopped eating and just sat there grinning at them like a weirdo. When they got to the next table a bass player joined them in a melodious rendition of “Amarillo by Morning.” They earned every penny they got that night.

The next morning we were off again! We aimed for a little town called Elida, New Mexico but discovered we could totally get to Roswell by quittin’ time. We parked in another whelming (not over or under, just whelming) park called Midway. Just a little dirt with a lot of permanent residents but it was full hook up for less than $13 again! Here we learned that our auto levelers are absolute garbage in high winds. Too much movement in the camper and it can’t tell if it’s level or not. Isn’t that great?

We drove into Roswell for groceries and to poke around for extraterrestrials. The street lamps had alien eyes and the businesses all had kitschy names. It was total tourist trap. We managed to snap photos with these two visitors on our way home.

On the road agaiiiinn… The next morning we drove through the mountains all the way up to 7,500 feet above sea level and parked at a really neat looking museum complex. It was completely out of character for the area but just the space we needed to pop the slides out and make lunch. Plus BONUS! They had SNOW! Snow is not at all what I like to see. The kids, however, thought it was incredible and proceeded to fill my pockets with it. They also lobbed snowballs at each other until their little fingers couldn’t take it anymore.

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Shortly after we went inside the camper another rv parked right next to us – and they were from Michigan! They were traveling virtually the same exact route we were headed. Small world!

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Our route took us directly past White Sands National Monument. We had initially written this into the schedule but the weather was supposed to be crappy. The weather was, yet again, all lies. It was gorgeous when we arrived! The gift shop sold us a couple of sleds and some wax, which was a complete scam and they made money hand over fist on these little disks. It was $17 for a sled, they buy them back from you for $5, resell them for $10, and will buy those resold sleds back for $3. Wax was $2 and was a 75 cent buy back. I found it, guys. This is what funds the National Parks system.

The sled scam was totally worth it, though. We drove out the the sand dunes and picked a good spot with a nice, steep hill and started throwing ourselves down it. The sand was soft and dry and the sun was warm. The whole thing was amazing!

PS – the sand here is actually gypsum: calcium sulfate with two molecules of water! Exciting for me, possibly exciting for you? Eh, it’s my blog, I can be excited about the main constituent in drywall if I want to.

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GYPSUUUUMMM!

This was an experience that we will treasure forever. I truly hope the kids remember this one when they’re bigger. That’s why we document things, right?

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The road has been A-OK

16409386_10154873894943548_73649369_oWhere were we? Ah yes, Dallas. We were actually staying in Lavon on a pretty little lake of the same name. Five days of sickness made for not a lot of adventure. Wesson managed to bash his front, permanent tooth on the slide at the playground just to add a little variety to life. Thankfully it did not fall out.

The last day in town we decided to go find something noteworthy to stare at. We ended up at the Dallas Museum of Art because the playground we were trying to go to was closed for repairs. Y’know what? The best places we’ve ever visited have been on the fly. The museum was FANTASTIC! It was such a diverse collection and it flowed well. It was very easy to walk through. Four floors of amazing pieces; from sculptures and paintings to furniture and clothing. Some pieces were thousands of years old. They even had some scavenger hunts for the kids to complete that brought them to some works they’d probably never have given a second look.

The most noteworthy finds for us were two paintings by Claude Monet. Mara had just been studying Monet and for her to find some water lilies made her day (and mine too). The visit definitely opened our eyes to the fact that we’ve been glossing right over the art museums and not giving them a chance. They’re on our radar now, and we’ll be making time.

Next, we wandered over to Deep Ellum Brewery. The Deep Ellum area is a colorful neighborhood. There are murals and art installations all over and small businesses aplenty. The brewery itself was the work of some really creative minds. Take a look:


Sunday the 22nd we packed up and hit the road for some serious movement. The target distance is usually about 250 miles or less. That might not seem like a lot if you’re like us old people and you’re used to driving straight through, all night, 1,000 miles at a time to wherever you want for no apparent reason. With kids and house in tow this dance has become a lesson in patience. Get up at 0700, leave at 0900, get to wherever we’re going before 1600 and set up so that dinner can be made and bedtime can be standard. With these short jaunts somewhat planned out we were also able to fit in a little sightseeing at our stopping points.

The first hop was to a Texas State Park called Copper Breaks. This was a poor choice. The place was so damn beautiful and quiet and I wish we had not even stopped because I wanted to stay there much, much longer than the 17 hours we had allowed. The canyons were vividly colored with green copper breaks and red rock. A photo could never do it justice. I climbed atop the camper just to see as far as I possibly could with my camera.

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The picnic tables were covered in these cute little teepees.

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And the STARS! OH, THE STARS! The park was so black and the sky was so, so bright. It felt as though anyone could have reached out and ran their fingers through the constellations. The only other people in our campground loop were the camp hosts (from Minnesota) who could not have been nicer. I’m actually disappointed that we didn’t get to hang out with them a bit more.

Our next stop was supposed to be Amarillo, but when we checked the weather our entire route was being bamboozled by weather that was not conducive to hauling your house behind you. Amarillo had 55 mph winds, Albuquerque had snow, White Sands was supposed to be 45 degrees… if only somebody had checked the weather before we left. Way to go, self. So, we sadly routed ourselves to Elida, New Mexico instead and turned on the seat warmers. We got about 30 minutes down the road a realized we’d have to go through Amarillo anyway. “Let’s just see what the weather is like when we get there.” It was WARM and SUNNY! It was a tad windy, but who cares?!

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On the way we stopped at a little town square to eat lunch. It was the town of Estelline, Texas, population 136. It was the perfect set-up for us. Big, wide streets for the camper, a picnic area for lunch time, and space for little people to run in circles. It also had a post office with extremely inaccurate scales. That’s scales, plural. We kept our mail that day.

We pulled into a little campground named A-OK that was on the outskirts of town. I never saw another set of people in this park, FYI. Payment was on the honor system: cash through the slot in the door at whatever rate you chose off the list. The place was covered in dog poop.

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Menacing looking emu

They had a menacing looking emu (truthfully they always look menacing), a donkey, and two alpacas behind a suggestion of a fence. They offered a full hook up for less than $13, though, so I really can’t complain too much. It was A-OK.

We did some super cool stuff in Amarillo and I’ll tell you ALLL about it after bedtime. Or tomorrow. Maybe Friday?